I love math, but I’m not good at remembering numbers. My husband and daughter just have numbers in their heads. They know how much milk costs and which brand is the cheapest, they know how many steps they climb to get to work, they know their passport numbers, and they have people’s phone numbers in their heads.
Obsessive counting might indicate a mental illness, but in moderation it seems to just be a tendency. So, why might we do it?
- We have obsessive-compulsive disorder. I remember being shocked when I took the MMP1 psychological test. One of the questions was something like, “Do you find yourself counting things?” I thought, “Hum… what’s my answer supposed to be? Will they think I have mental problems if I say yes? Do I count things? Really? What should I answer? What did I say last time?” You see where I’m going with it? By the time I finished the test, I needed to see a psychologist.
- We don’t want to lose something. We’ve all put together puzzles only to find a missing piece at the end…ugh!!! I found myself counting to avoid a similar situation in school. Several years ago, I bought a really expensive bingo game for my students. We used it to call out student numbers when students should answer questions. Every time I put it away, I always counted the pieces. ”If we lose one of them,” I told them, “the game is worthless.”
- We don’t want to forget how to count. Little children really seem to think that if they don’t count out loud regularly they will forget how to count. I guess that’s why they do it!
- We are getting old. I’ve tripped down our front stairs in the dark on several occasions. My husband responded, “Eleven, eleven! Count them and you won’t fall.” I’m getting old and I can’t see as well in the dark, so now I count—eleven and eleven.
- We want to make sure we don’t have too many. My mom always had the best answer about why she counted us. There were five girls, and she never left any of us anywhere—as far as I can remember. Her motto was, “I count you so that I don’t come away with too many kids.” Now, I’m a teacher, and I do the same thing. I love all of my students, but I don’t want to take on students from other classes.
- We think of the worst-case scenario. I once heard someone say that they were counting how many steps it took them to go from their class all the way up to our fourth floor dorm hall. When I asked them why they did it, they said that they needed to know in case they go blind.
- We are bored. Counting for one of the above reasons is OK from time to time. However, sometimes we just count to relieve boredom. I have counted so many things in church buildings (though I love God very much). My list includes number of pipes in a pipe organ, number of words and colors in a stained-glass window, number of tiles under a pew, average number of people who can sit on a pew, number of girls to boys ration in a given church, number of old people to young people in a church, number of people who would leave if we brought in a rock band, number of people who might have married a distant cousin, and the list continues on.
For whatever reason you find yourself counting, numbers are pretty fascinating. If for some reason you find yourself counting, stop and evaluate how many times you’ve done it in the last hour. Surely you won’t by considered psycho! You can count on it!